Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

A long, long time ago when I was an apprentice telecommunications technician, and that was very long ago, the qualified technician to whom I was assigned, told me his theory about how to get promoted. “The bosses have to know about you,” he told me. “If they don’t know about you, you can’t possibly get promoted. It makes sense.”

It did. So I asked him how he planned to get noticed. I pointed out to him that we were on a country station, far from head office. The bosses were more likely to promote someone they saw every day than us whom they visited maybe twice a year.

“It’s in the detail,” he said. “You’ve got to look after the detail and ensure that they notice. Watch how we prepare when next the bosses come for a visit.”

So I watched as Fanie, that was his name, prepared for the bosses visit. He went over his paperwork, redoing pages that looked even the slightest bit sloppy, getting me to sweep and dust the office and the equipment room, sending the African linesman to weed and water our tiny garden. Together we made our van look as if it was fresh from the showroom. He took part in the scrubbing and polishing himself. He even re-arranged the position in which the equipment was positioned to look more impressive and reveal how hard we were working.

Our immediate bosses, two of them, arrived on the appointed day, strolled through our premises, chose not to inspect Fanie’s paperwork, did not seem to notice anything different about our truck and barely glanced at the arrangement of our equipment. They were with us for all of fifteen minutes and then went off to have lunch with mayor.

I was shattered. “It’s all right,” Fanie said. “They must have noticed how spick and span everything is.”

I was less confident about that. In the couple years that followed, their visits followed broadly the same pattern. They never seemed to notice anything and Fanie never got promoted.

“We’re not doing well enough,” Fanie told me. “I think the problem is with the truck. We must leave the bonnet open so they can see how nicely we clean the engine.”

“We don’t clean the engine,” I said. “We leave that to the garage.”

“Ah,” Fanie said. “That’s it. That’s our problem.”

So we cleaned the truck’s engine, all three of us, Fanie, the linesman and me. After ten minutes of labour, I discovered a problem. “The thick dirt around the manifold and the battery terminals and especially above that little hole on the left mudguard doesn’t come off easily.”

“Use petrol,” he said. With that he siphoned a quantity out of the tank and gave as each a portion in a cut off jam tin.

It worked. The petrol took off the dirt very well.

What exactly happened to end our labours and how it happened was never clear to me. The only thing I am sure about was that the fire started in Fanie’s own jam tin. Once it got going, the whole engine, now dripping in petrol, went up in flames. The fuel tank detonated with a prodigious bang, the entire garage was destroyed and one wall of the equipment room was badly scorched.

The time the bosses did notice Fanie. He was commended for containing the blaze. The next year he received his overdue promotion.


Getting Noticed